Woman writing checks at home office desk.

What Is A Routing Number On A Check, And What Is It For?

Scott Steinberg4-minute read
June 03, 2021

The routing number on a check serves an important purpose as it specifies the banking location at which you opened your account and from which funds will be drawn. A nine-digit number that corresponds to a bank or credit union, you can find it located on the lower left-hand corner of your checks. Sometimes referred to as a routing transit number or American Bankers Association (ABA) routing number, it tells others which specific financial institution you have chosen to bank with. Here’s how routing numbers work, and why the financial world is so fond of using them.

What Is A Routing Number?

The routing number on a check, formally referred to as an ABA routing transit number, is a nine-digit code that identifies the specific bank and/or branch affiliated with your account. Any institution that attempts to cash the check will know where to extract monies paid from by this number.

Your bank routing number effectively functions similarly to a physical address and tells anyone hoping to send or receive money where to route these sums to or from. A routing number helps to eliminate confusion, allowing financial institutions to quickly transfer monies where they need to go without confusing bank names, addresses or information.

Noting this, you’ll frequently be asked to provide your routing number if you elect to make a wire transfer, electronic deposit, or payment whether online or via phone. A routing number essentially serves as a form of shorthand for financial institutions, helping them ensure money gets to the right destination, and minimizing the chances that mistakes are made in sending.

Common reasons that you may be asked for your routing number outside of direct deposits or check processing needs may include automatic bill payments, electronic wires, or transfers to/from popular payment apps.

Where Is The Routing Number Located On A Check?

Two simple ways to obtain your bank’s routing number include looking on your bank statement or by directly contacting a bank representative. But as before, you can also easily locate it on a check itself. Your bank routing number, which corresponds to the bank location where you opened your account, is the first set of numbers printed on the bottom of your checks. You’ll find these nine-digit sequences (not including special characters, which are not part of the ABA routing number) situated on the left-hand side of these documents.

Note that no two banks or credit unions possess the same credit number, making it simple to differentiate them when processing financial transactions. But a single bank may have multiple routing numbers, especially if it has multiple branch locations, or account programs that are geared toward different strategic purposes. National banks may even boast dozens of individual routing numbers broken down by state or region.

If you have questions about your routing number, be sure to call your bank’s customer service department, or reference the number on your most recent banking statement.

Routing Number Vs. Account Number

Just as a bank routing number reveals the bank location where funds should be deposited to or withdrawn from, an account number specifies which unique account should be utilized when processing financial transactions. The second set of numbers following your routing number on a check (excluding any character symbols) represents your account number and is the largest set of numbers printed on the document. Your account number is one of a kind, and uniquely keyed to your individual bank account. To find it, you’ll need to look at your checks, or log into your online bank account.

Using a routing number (which tells others which bank to transact with) and account number (which explains which individual account that they’re doing business with), it’s possible to engage in remote financial transactions. A routing number and account number serve in similar fashion to coordinates on a map, helping deposits and withdrawals successfully chart a course from one destination to another. Banks and credit unions routinely look to these references to ensure that you’re properly paid, or paying out deposits and expenses as they arise.

Why Are Routing Numbers Important?

Routing numbers act as helpful guides of sorts, ensuring that funds reach the right place when they need to be transacted. But beyond their use in checking, they’re also a frequently utilized tool when making direct deposits, paying taxes, processing refunds, and handling monthly expenses.

Created in partnership with the ABA, your routing number functions as a bank ID that makes it simple and efficient to process a variety of financial exchanges. That’s why it plays such an important role in juggling one’s day to day finances and making sure that money can come and go with ease.

The Bottom Line

Many types of financial transactions happen every day that are facilitated and aided through the use of routing numbers. These nine-digit sequences act as unique identifiers for banks and credit unions that help others hoping to engage in commerce know where money should come from and go. Without them, the world of banking would be far more confusing. Luckily, these handy identifiers make it a snap to send and receive funds with ease and ensure that sums are quickly routed towards the proper destination.

To learn more about various types of financial transactions, and how to make the most of them, be sure to check out more personal finance articles at the Rocket HQSM blog.

Scott Steinberg

Hailed as The Master of Innovation by Fortune magazine, and World’s Leading Business Strategist, award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists. He’s the bestselling author of 14 books including Make Change Work for You and FAST >> FORWARD.